Ireland weather the storm to see off Wales
A much improved performance is rewarded with a bonus point win in Dublin
Although the second-half pivoted near the hour mark on Hadleigh Parkes rightly having a try disallowed for failing to ground the ball properly which would have made it a five-point game, in truth if the scoreline flattered either side, it was Wales, as Ireland registered a bonus point win over the World Cup semi-finalists and reigning Grand Slam champions.
In the process, they ended Wales’ eight-match winning run in this competition, dating back to their visit here two years ago and by dint of this win, Ireland also usurped Wales at fourth in the world rankings. In actual fact, it’s a third successive win over the Welsh since that harrowing defeat in Cardiff last March.
The post-World Cup hangover hasn’t been completely cured, but the doom and gloom has been replaced by a feel-good factor. Ireland have beaten a very good Welsh side, and will now travel to Twickenham buoyed by this victory and seeking a Triple Crown.
James Ryan had a huge game up front, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton ran the show with assurance and Robbie Henshaw had a barnstorming return before being forced off for an HIA and didn’t return. The back three were heavily involved, and Larmour added real valued when hitting the line.
There was much to like in Ireland’s performance. From the off they showed an ambition to go wide and offload - granted Wales were even more inclined to do so - and thereafter weren’t shy of attacking from deep or playing what they saw in front of them. The skill set and ambition was reflected in four good tries, even if there were malfunctions such as the pack’s failure to convert attacking set-pieces into workable platforms or scores. That said, the scrum improved significantly to ultimately hold sway at a key moment.
Reflecting Ireland’s ambitious start, in the first 10 minutes they made 35 passes to Wales’ five, with the back three being worked into the game early on (making 11 carries between them in those first stages) and being given licence to roam.
Unfortunately, the set-pieces let them down on a couple of key occasions close to the Welsh line. Ireland’s width earned a five metre scrum from one of Jacob Stockdale’s trademark chips on the run when the chasing Conway, on his opposite, tackled Leigh Halfpenny over his line. But the Welsh pack shunted Ireland back on their tighthead side to earn a relieving penalty.
Ireland were soon stretching the Welsh defence again, with Robbie Henshaw clearly fancying a visiting midfield featuring the full debutant, Nick Tompkins, before Sexton launched a high crossfield kick for Conway to chase and beat Josh Adams in knocking the ball back. But Justin Tipuric, such an effective all-round footballer, beat Iain Henderson to the ball.
The welsh prop, Wyn Jones, then ended another attack in the jackal and Henderson was then choke tackled by a combination of Taulupe Faletau and Tipuric.
Ireland were offloading too, Henshaw twice freeing his hands in quick succession on either side of the pitch to Henderson and CJ Stander, but when Sexton went to the corner with a penalty, the Irish maul - already told they’d been held up once by Romain Poite - gathered momentum again but were stopped short of the line. Murray couldn’t hide his frustration at another chance lost.
Finally the breakthrough came when the pack went into pick-and-jam mode after building a head of steam from the next lineout outside the 22. Suddenly, Murray pulled the trigger when passing long to Larmour, and the fullback stepped off his right foot inside Tompkins’ poor tackle, went through Tomos Williams’ and took a hit from Adams to score.
The only blemish was that, to the audible shock of the crowd, Sexton hooked his conversion wide.
Then, with their first real foray into Irish territory, Wales scored a mite too easily. Alun Wyn Jones’ bear-like right paw was the creator in chief, as the Welsh captain offloaded to Dan Biggar, whose offload inside enabled the supporting Williams to arc inside Larmour and score. As Land of My Fathers gathered voice around the ground from the sizeable Welsh Red Army, Biggar converted. One of the passes in the build-up did look clearly forward on replays, even if this was somehow missed by the officials. What does a TMO do anymore?
Ireland’s response was good, as they worked the ball wide left and then wide right, where Conway was unlucky to see his well weighted chip veer over the touchline. However, despite a clean take and feed by Alyn Wyn Jones, Williams’ was already looking to kick the ball before catching it, and knocked on.
The ensuing scrum was turned into a seven-pointer when Aki trucked it up, as did Henderson, before Peter O’Mahony and Rob Herring latched onto Tadhg Furlong to help him over the line. Sexton converted to make it 12-7.
Wales’ offloading game threatened once more when Alun Wyn Jones, again carrying the ball one-handed, played the ball out of the tackle to Biggar but his offload was fumbled by Wyn Jones when tackled from behind by Henshaw.
This was translated into an 80 metre turnover when Sexton, well inside his 22, daringly beat Biggar on his inside from the scrum and looped a skip pass to Conway, who fired a huge touch-finder along the line beyond the scampering Leigh Halfpenny. Alas, Herring couldn’t quite hold on to the overthrow from the ensuing lineout.
A Johnny McNicholl handling error and a minor set-to ended the half with Ireland deserving of more than a 12-7 lead for all their dominance in territory and possession, all the more so given they had first use of the wind.
The Fields had arrived on 39 minutes, but the crowd were in even better voice soon after the resumption. A glaring knock-on on halfway by the unfortunate Tompkins, admittedly from a poor low pass by Williams, and Stander earning another penalty, had Ireland on the front foot.
Murray tapped it quickly, presumably following a call outside, and Ireland went through the phases. Herring had space to make a big gallop toward the Welsh line, and Tompkins saved a try with a superb tackle on Larmour, before Poite went back for the penalty against Wyn Jones for offside.
Herring went flat to Henderson at the front, where the rest of the pack quickly folded to drive hard at the line and, after recourse to the video, Josh van der Flier’s grounding was confirmed. Sexton converted.
But for many years now, Wales are never beaten until the fat lady sings.
Moments before van der Flier’s try, both Biggar and Henshaw went off for HIAs and didn’t return. Keith Earls came on as a direct replacement for Henshaw, as the 13 jinx struck again, while Jarrod Evans, only called onto the bench about 20 minutes before kick-off when Owen Williams pulled up with a hamstring twinge, was also introduced.
Some big carrying by impact replacement Ross Moriarty and a snappier service from the sniping Gareth Davies helped Wales work an overlap, where Conway made a try-saving read when rushing up to Tompkins, whose attempted flick went metres forward.
Even so, they seemed to have scored when Parkes steamed onto Davies’ pass between the tackles of Herring and O’Mahony to reach out for the line underneath the nose of Poite, who awarded the try. However, on review, Parkes clearly, if fractionally, lost control of the ball before grounding. A game of inches indeed.
Another Welsh siege followed, before what seemed to be another invaluable Stander turnover, only for him to be penalised again. Poite explained to Sexton that Irish players weren’t supporting their own body weight, Sexton politely pointed out that Welsh players were going off their feet.
The ensuing, re-set scrum felt huge, all the more so when the pressure on Dillon Lewis from Dave Kilcoyne, on the field a dozen minutes, forced the Welsh tighthead to buckle and concede the penalty. Cue an old Lansdowne Roar!
The home side went on the offensive when Sexton and Earls, with no time, moved the ball wide for Larmour to release Stockdale, but after Aki and Furlong put Ireland on the front foot Herring dropped Murray’s pass. With that Herring was withdrawn, as Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter and Devin Toner were brought into the tight five.
In vintage Irish fashion, ala the many good days under Schmidt, Ireland turned the screw. Murray (after his own good take) pinned the Welsh back with his box kicks to just outside the 22 with the help of Conway’s excellent chasing.
Max Deegan was introduced for his debut, replacing O’Mahony, and Ross Byrne came on for a bruised Sexton before John Cooney, to popular roars, replaced the under-appreciated Murray, who had another strong game.
Wales were forced to play catch-up and North slightly overran Davies pass in knocking on. Instead, not only was there no bonus point for them, Ireland secured one for themselves. Aki and Van der Flier made big carries into traffic before Cooney and Byrne moved the ball wide to Larmour whose transfer enabled Conway to finish sharply by the corner flag.
Again The Fields echoed around the ground, but with much more gusto. This one felt good all round, although Stander’s man of the match award was followed up by a 79th minute yellow card and the game ended with what is oft referred to as a consolation try for Tipuric off a maul.
It didn’t seem like much consolation for Wales, nor did it affect the revived feel-good factor around the Irish team.
Scoring sequence: 19 mins Larmour try, 5-0; 27 mins Williams try, Biggar con 5-7; 31 mins Furlong try, Sexton con 12-7; (half-time 12-7); 47 min Van der Flier try, Sexton con 19-7; 75 mins Conway try 24-7; 81 mins Tipuric try, Halfpenny con 24-14.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster); Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster), Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (St Marys College/Leinster, capt), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster), James Ryan (UCD/Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster). Replacements: Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) for Henshaw (45 mins), Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Healy (51 mins), Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Herring, Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) for Furlong, Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Henderson (all 67 mins), Max Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster) for O’Mahony, Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) for Sexton (both 71 mins), John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) for Murray (73 mins).
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets); George North (Ospreys), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Josh Adams (Cardiff); Dan Biggar (Northampton), Tomos Williams (Cardiff); Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, capt), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Bath). Replacements: Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) for Adams (25 mins), Jarrod Evans for Biggar (45 mins), Ross Moriarty (Dragons) for Wainwright (49 mins), Rhys Carre (Saracens) for W Jones (64 mins), Leon Brown (Dragons) for Lewis (67 mins), Adam Beard (Ospreys) for Ball (71 mins), Ryan Elias (Scarlets) for Owens (75 mins).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)